Simply put, “bottling up” your emotions is a common phrase that means suppressing or denying your emotions. Some people experience difficulty coping with strong emotions, which can be overwhelming and lead to suppression. However, while ignoring these strong feelings can help you feel better in the short term, there are several long-term health consequences to bottling up your emotions. If you are someone who tends to suppress their strong emotions, it is important to check in with yourself periodically and evaluate your current state, especially after experiencing a stressful or traumatic event. Then, if you realize that you are, in fact, bottling up your emotions, you can take the appropriate measures to address your suppressed emotions and work through them in a healthy manner.
Bottling up your emotions can affect your behavioral and physical health and wellness. When checking in with yourself (or evaluating a loved one), pay attention for the following behavioral or physical signs of emotional repression:
- Avoidant behaviors: Someone who doesn’t want to deal with their own strong emotions (or those of other people) may be likely to avoid conflict, so that they can avoid experiencing the strong and often painful emotions that accompany it. This person might be willing to do anything to avoid conflict in relationships, but may experience difficulty in these relationships due to a sense of resentment that may build up over time.
- Difficulty expressing emotions: If you have a hard time trusting other people with your own emotional vulnerability, or even experiencing it yourself, this is a good sign that you might benefit from some guided therapy from a trained professional who can help you strengthen your ability to cope with strong emotions.
- Frequent overreaction: If you find yourself blowing up over minor issues, this can be a sign of having suppressed emotions. Someone who is emotionally well balanced and in a state of equanimity is usually able to withstand temporary setbacks or frustrations.
- Stress headaches and migraines: Chronic migraines can be caused by stress, which is likely to follow emotional suppression. If you experience regular headaches or migraines, first check with your primary care physician (and any specialists to whom your doctor may refer you) to rule out any physical reasons for the headaches to be occurring.
- Digestive difficulty: Similar to chronic headaches, digestive issues can be caused by a variety of physical problems, as well as emotional suppression. Your primary care physician should be able to help you determine any physical causes of digestive issues. But once these are ruled out, a licensed therapist may be able to help you process any complex or distressing emotions so that your nervous system can return to a “rest and digest” state rather than feeling the effects of a “flight or fight” stress response.
If you realize that you have been bottling up your emotions, don’t worry. There are several ways that you can deal with this before it leads to more complicated issues or health problems. Identifying your negative emotions, taking the time to name and understand them and their causes, and journaling about these introspective findings are actions that can go a long way to helping yourself manage strong emotions in a healthier manner, especially when you are already feeling the negative effects of emotional suppression. If you find that your efforts to help yourself aren’t as effective as you’d like, you might benefit from professional help. Chenal Family Therapy offers a network of mental health care providers who are always ready to use their training and experience to help you address your unique struggles, from processing suppressed emotions to strengthening your ability to cope with strong emotions in a healthier way.